Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
October 21, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Ahnfeldt Wines

Ahnfeldt WinesAhnfeldt Wines

It appears that when we named our company Uncorked Ventures, we set ourselves up to have plenty of company with that Uncorked term.  The latest folks that we came across with a similar name have a special place in that group because they make some really good wine as well.

During a recent trip we walked into the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa, only to be looking at “Uncorked at Oxbow”.

If you aren’t familiar with the Oxbow Market, it is set up in a similar fashion to other high end food emporiums which bring together a group of separate vendors within a single facility, the concept in many ways is similar to a Farmer’s Market in many ways, but with permanent stalls and typically with more prepared food.  My wife and I have a peculiar affection for the Ferry Building in San Francisco and are anxiously awaiting the opening of something similar in Oakland’s Jack London Square, if that project can ever get off the ground. Given Oakland’s newly found center at the center of the food startup scene in the Bay Area, it makes you wonder why the developer can’t pull that one off-but back to Ahnfeldt and Uncorked at Oxbow.

After a moment, we realized that Uncorked at Oxbow was in effect a tasting room for Ahnfeldt Wines.

That brings us to the important part of the story, Uncorked is more than a standard tasting room where there is wine and frankly not much else.  It features open mic night’s, barrel tastings, blending sessions and generally aims to open the side door to the wineries that we all love and let the general public have a look at how things really get done in Napa.  It’s a really cool idea and a project that deserves our support.

Another reason that the project deserves our support is that Ahnfeldt makes some damn good wine.  Routinely scored at 90 points and above by major wine critics, the winery offers in many ways the essential grapes of Napa Valley: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  When it comes to wine tasting in Napa Valley, people can sometimes be overwhelmed by the number of available choices and winery options.  Ahnfeldt makes itself an interesting and unique place to taste based on both the environment as well as the way they’ve set up their wine program.  It’s always fun to learn a little something when you visit Napa, Ahnfeldt helps there by offering an interesting mix of wines.  As an example, they offer a Napa Valley Merlot, but also a Reserve Merlot from their Hardman Vineyard.  It might be challenge for your palate, but the chance to see the differences inherent to a single vineyard in Napa Valley is a fun thing to taste and try.  Their Cabernet Sauvignon program offers something similar while it additionally offers two single vineyard choices, one from the Mountain District-which is unique because it is one of the highest vineyard sites in Napa, more than 2,000 feet above sea level.

I also appreciate the winery having a couple of other labels available in order to offer a Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and what I think might be the next big thing in Napa, Sangiovese.

In this space we typically talk a bit about the winemaker in question, at Ahnfeldt he really needs little to no introduction for most of our readers-Paul Hobbs who quite simply makes some of the most memorable Cabernet Sauvignon in both North and South America in any given vintage. Hobbs has produced a running number of 95+ point wines, which fits well with Ahnfeldt and what they are trying to accomplish.  Let’s just say I’m sure Hobbs’ services aren’t cheap these days, so it says a lot about the commitment of owners Celeste and Bruce and their commitment to the labels to bring him on board. The couple although married in 2005 have both been part of Napa’s wine scene since the mid 1980’s.  Bruce has grown and sold grapes for years as a side project to his law practice and Celeste opened and operated one of the nicest, smallest and most exclusive bed and breakfast’s in the region.

Uncorked at OxbowThe next time you find yourself in downtown Napa, Uncorked at Oxbow is a great place to check out and enjoy a unique and memorable wine tasting experience.

Mark Aselstine
October 20, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

October Wine Club Shipments

Just a short head's up that our monthly wine club shipments are set to go out this Friday morning October 25th, 2013.

Customers should see credit card charges placed by Wednesday and then Fedex tracking numbers by Thursday afternoon or early evening.

We hope everyone is having a nice weekend and is looking forward to Halloween and the coming fall and holiday seasons. October shipments feature a few aged California selections from a special winery relationship that we've made over the years, as well as selections from Oregon and Washington. We're especially excited about this month's shipment as we had the opportunity to show off some of the ecclectic side of winemakers in Oregon and Washington-it isn't all Pinot Noir in the Northwest!

Additionally, shipments for Novemeber and December will leave the warehouse earlier in the month (approximately the 15th) to ensure that they arrive before Thanksgiving and Christmas respectively. If you'll be traveling for either holiday and have some specific dates in mind, we're also happy to make sure your wine arrives before or after your travel.  Just shoot us an email with your dates and when you'd like the wine delivered.

Warm Regards from sunny and warm California-

Mark Aselstine
October 15, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Bodega de Edgar

Bodega de Edgar  

Bodega de Edgar is one of the newer wine projects in Paso Robles and has attracted a significant amount of attention for both the quality of the wine and what it means for the wider wine industry.

Owned by winemaker Edgar Torres who is the assistant winemaker at Barrel 27 by day, Bodega de Edgar focuses on three varietal specific wines and 5 blends.  Of interest for our wine club members was his Tempranillo offering, which we featured in our Special Selections Wine Club a few month’s back after discovering it at an industry tasting in San Francisco.

Bodega de Edgar, in my estimation is an important project for a couple of reasons.  First, he is helping to push the boundaries of the grapes and plantings in and around Paso Robles.  One thing that made Paso become the preeminent wine destination that it is today was it’s willingness back in the 1980’s to buck the trend of plantings and focus on the Rhone varietals of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre which are so well suited for the western section of Paso.  I’d love to see the region continue experimenting and Tempranillo especially seems like a grape which could achieve a level of consumer success and critical acceptance in the region.  Not many well known wineries try to make it though which severely limits it's plantings and long term prospects.  It’s nice to find a startup willing to get behind the grape.

Secondly, you’ve probably noticed the Spanish style winery name (in this case Bodega is being used as the Spainards do, to mean winery and not corner store as we sometimes see in New York City and elsewhere) and wine types being produced, both are a nod to the winemaker’s heritage.  Edgar grew up in the coastal town of Cambria and while working as a waiter in Paso Robles, ended up making friends with a winemaker or two (like I said, Paso’s a cool little community of folks) and after some time as a Cellar Rat was promoted to what I consider, one of the best winemaking teams in California at Barrel 27.

That process of interest and then an internship of sorts I believe to be an important one in our industry.  Winemaking is certainly as much art as science, feel as it is textbook and I’d hate the industry to go to a model in which a 4 year viticulture degree was the only way to start making wine.  Let’s face it, not too many high school senior’s living outside of a few wine capitals, think making wine is a realistic career path.  I certainly didn’t. That being said, plenty of people become interested in making wine, or the wine industry at some point of their life, so having a way for them to work professionally in the industry is important.  Given some of the conversation and the way that winemakers work together during harvest, I think that learning from an established winemaker makes complete sense.

The focus on newer grapes for the area, an internship route to becoming a winemaker and simply interesting, unique and good wine all make Bodega de Edgar a new Paso Robles wine project that you should check out.

Our wine club members already have.

Mark Aselstine
October 14, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Kinero Cellars

Kinero Cellars is a personal project by winemaker Anthony Yount who spends his days making wine at Denner Vineyards in Paso Robles.

We originally met Anthony a couple of years back when we happened to have a free afternoon in Paso Robles and through a conversation with the folks over at Barrel 27, it was suggested that Anthony was someone we absolutely had to meet, oh and as is typical in Paso, they called over and made our appointment for us.  Paso’s a small winemaking community that really does look out for one and other.  While plenty of wine regions talk about their comradely, as an outsider it seems more apparent in Paso than it does elsewhere.

In a lot of ways, Anthony represents exactly what’s so exciting about the whole scene in Paso Robles.  First, he’s young. In fact he’s probably the only winemaker (at a major winery at least and Denner is among the 3 most important properties in Paso) I’ve come across clearly younger than I am. Secondly, he was among the first class of winemakers coming out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s viticulture department.  For generations UC Davis has in essence, been the only game in town when it comes to educating winemakers in California.  Calpoly, given it’s proximity to the outstanding wine regions in both Paso and Santa Barbara stands to push Davis in ways that no other domestic winemaker training program has been able to, to date.  Lastly and most importantly, he makes damn good wine.

If you were to ask my wife and I to make a list of winery based wine clubs that we’d gladly join at full retail, we’d probably both create a rather short list.  After all, it’s easy to get accustomed to samples and buying at California wholesale or better.  In any case, Kinero would be the only winery at we’d both include on our lists that focuses on white wine. That’s partly because the wine is really good, they are undoubtedly complex white wines and it’s also partly because we have both enjoyed our time and conversations with Anthony when we’ve met him in person, even picking up a few cases of wine at one point at his house on a Sunday afternoon as we were driving through Paso Robles.  With any small winery, even one coming from an established winemaker, personality counts.

So what makes the wines at Kinero so unique and perhaps more importantly, how do these white wines differ than those Anthony makes at Denner Vineyards?

To start, I find there to be a greater amount of acidity in the Kinero offerings.  The Denner white’s really do remind me of what you might associate with a style in Napa, bigger and rounder fruit.  Tasting room and critical stars all, to be sure. Kinero offers, in my estimation a more natural expression of the grapes involved especially the Rustler (Roussane) and Alice (Grenache Blanc).

Secondly, you’ll also note that there is a notable difference in price points involved for the wine’s we are talking about.  At $22 Alice is among the best deals in California wine and at $30 the Rustler deserves an even greater amount of attention than it already receives in the press.

The Rustler I think also introduces a concept why winemaker personal labels can be an interesting and unique way to access great wine. 

Denner Vineyards is located next door to the famed James Berry Vineyard.  If you aren’t familiar with James Berry (you should be) Robert Parker once called it one of the 5 Grand Cru vineyards in the state of California.  That is, if we borrowed the French naming convention for the quality of a site, the James Berry Vineyard would be among the 5 best in the state and the absolute best in Paso Robles. Owned by Saxum Vineyards, their James Berry vineyard designate wines have consistently achieved critical scores of 95 points and above, often while costing $70 or more per bottle.

With Kinero’s Rustler priced at $30, that’s an incredible opportunity to taste some of the best fruit in California and really the world, at an affordable, reasonable price point.

Oh and if you’re wondering how that relationship between a rival winemaker and a great winery might have been born, the James Berry and Denner Vineyards are separated by what amounts to a golf cart path.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the short intro to Kinero Cellars and Anthony Yount.  He is a winemaker and a wine label worth checking out the next time you’re looking for an interesting, unique and simply good white wine.

Mark Aselstine
October 10, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Winemakers Personal Labels

We've realized that we've referred to winemakers personal labels a number of times in this space, without ever really talking about what we mean by that, which by the way is in no way a standard piece of industry jargon.

When we talk about a winemaker's personal label, we're usually talking about a winemaker who makes the wine at one vineyard (one that you probably have heard of) while making a smaller amount of wine, selling it himself (or herself) with little or no help.

Often the wine is made at the same facility where the winemaker works during the day and the fruit is generally purchased from vineyards that have larger than normal yields for the year (although more frequently vineyard owners are realizing that winemakers pay their bills and are offering longer term contracts to start ups).

In any case a winemaker personal label is often a nice way to get a really, really nice deal on a bottle of wine.